Participants will learn construction, maintenance skills in new partnership
If all goes according to plan, 20 units of affordable housing in Charlottesville that are currently uninhabitable due to disrepair will be brought back to life in a collaboration between two local nonprofits, the area’s community college and the city. At the same time, public housing residents will have the opportunity to learn a valuable trade.
On Tuesday, City Councilor Kathy Galvin asked her colleagues to discuss expanding the new project’s funding as soon as possible. Councilors Heather Hill and Mike Signer expressed their support and City Manager Maurice Jones said he would bring a specific recommendation back to the council at a future meeting.
“You would be doing two things at once,” Galvin said. “You’d be getting 20 units online for habitation, something we sorely need, and then second, you would be using that process to impart marketable skills to our public housing residents.”
Galvin sees the new project as just one example of what the City Council could do with greater off-budget flexibility. Currently, these “flexible” project funds from the city are capped at $10,000.
“Commitment to environmental sustainability, social and economic justice and healthy race relations — it gets at so many things at once. Open it up to $50,000, that gets them covered quite a bit,” Galvin said, noting that the project is looking at other funding sources, as well.
Galvin then invited Dan Rosensweig, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, to explain the project further to the council during Tuesday’s meeting.
The partnership involves Habitat, the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, the Public Housing Association of Residents and Piedmont Virginia Community College. Habitat learned in November that 20 of CRHA’s units in Westhaven and Sixth Street were uninhabitable due to maintenance issues.
“This is a tremendously exciting four-way partnership,” Rosensweig said. “We said, ‘Look, we have skilled volunteers. We have skills on staff. We get gifts in-kind. Let’s bring what we can to the table.’”
It was PHAR’s idea to turn the moment into a job training opportunity. The group partnered with Ridge Schuyler, dean of community self-sufficiency programs at PVCC, to make it happen.
“The role that we’re playing is we are helping to identify the people who have been left behind, we’re helping to support them in their training needs, and also in whatever else they need in order to be quality employees for the housing authority to do this work,” Schuyler said in an interview.
The training program will be a paid internship under the CRHA and Habitat for Humanity. PVCC already has organized two sessions to train interested residents.
The first program, set for Feb. 5 through March 21, is for potential plumbers, electricians and other technicians. A second program, which will run from March to May, will train future apartment maintenance technicians to respond to resident complaints.
“We have two different options depending on a person’s future job plans,” Schuyler said. “They are both preparing them for this initial job with the housing authority to upfit these 20 apartments and get them back online.”
Schuyler said he wants to get the trainees hired with the CRHA permanently.
“They have a regular turnover of apartments. They have a need for maintenance technicians. So, it’s possible that the housing authority itself could remain their employer long term,” he said.
Even if the CRHA doesn’t have job openings for the trainees, Schuyler said businesses already are lining up to hire the residents after they are trained.
“Lots of employers would like to get folks who have some skill to help them maintain the level of rental properties that we have in this town,” he said.
Rosensweig sees the training program as a chance to create new business owners, too.
“Some of our graduates, people who’ve gone through a year of our training program, are folks like Jeff Erkelens, who now owns a successful construction company in town,” he said, adding that one of Habitat for Humanity’s own directors of construction went through the same program.